Eyewitness Reports in History Declaration of Independence Part 2

An eyewitness account of the founding fathers writing the Declaration of Independence for the United States of America written by Thomas Jefferson.


Declaration of Independence

When: July 4, 1776

Lee's resolution was passed July 2 with 12 votes for, none against, and one abstaining. (The New York delegation was awaiting fresh instructions from its besieged state.) On July 3 the Declaration was formally read to Congress.

After each clause was read, a chorus of challenges went up as the 50 delegates-turned-editors sought to improve the document. Jefferson sat silent, his head bent over his portable writing desk, taking copious notes as his glowing prose was nitpicked. Though he would not defend his writing, he forever after referred to the changes Congress made as "mutilations."

In his original draft, Jefferson made an un-complimentary reference to "Scotch and foreign mercenaries" sent by King George III to fight the colonists. Several Scotch members of Congress took exception to the phrase, and it was stricken.

In a lengthy passage he attacked the institution of slavery. This, too, was eliminated, because the Georgia and South Carolina delegations threatened to vote against the entire Declaration if it were allowed to stand. Also, the passage was, even considering the temper of the times, ludicrous, because it suggested that the British King had foisted the slave trade on the unwilling colonists, an interpretation of facts which even the most zealous patriot could not accept.

The haggling went on throughout July 3 and deep into the evening of July 4, when 12 colonies voted aye and none nay, New York still abstaining.

After the vote there were no cheers, no speeches, no exhilaration at having participated in a momentous event. The prevailing mood was one of relief that the thing had been done at last. The delegates were bone-weary, for the hours dragged by in the stifling heat of Independence Hall, its doors and windows tightly shut to keep out carnivorous flies from an adjoining stable. (Jefferson, a compulsive note-taker, recorded that the temperature at 6:00 A.M. that day was 68 deg, and that it was 72 1/4 deg. at 9:00 A.M., 76 deg. at 1:00 P.M., and 73 1/2 deg. at 9:00 P.M.)

John Hancock, as president of Congress, signed the document. Charles Thomson, the clerk, added his attesting signature. It later was ordered transcribed on parchment and was signed by most of the rest of Congress on Aug. 2, 1776. Thomas McKean of Delaware was the last to sign, in 1781.

Eyewitness Report: Long after the event, Adams described how Jefferson was chosen to write the Declaration:

"Jefferson proposed to me to make the draught. I said, 'I will not.'

" 'You ought to do it.'

" 'Oh, no.'

" 'Why?'

" 'Reasons enough.'

" 'What can be your reasons?'

" 'Reason first-you are a Virginian and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second-I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third-you can write 10 times better than I can.'

" 'Well,' said Jefferson, 'if you are decided, I will do as well as I can.'"

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